RealClearWorld Newsletters: Europe Memo

Foreign Policy After Empire Fades

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That Britain is suffering a moment of foreign policy drift is no secret, and indeed we have touched on the topic in this memo. London is hardly the only European capital struggling to find its purpose. Berlin is struggling to assert its emerging role as the Continent's reluctant hegemon, while Paris has yet to come to grips with its relegation to second-tier status among the crucial European powers. But Western Europe's uncertainty has played out most visibly in Britain.

This week saw the release of a major report urging a ground-up rethink of the United Kingdom's foreign policy. Guided by a first-principles reassessment of Britain's place in the world, the report, released under the aegis of the London School of Economics (LSE), presents the recommendations of former senior diplomats, intelligence officers, and academics. Even as Prime Minister David Cameron gave his most high-profile speech to date on the status of the United Kingdom's most important relationship -- that with Europe -- the authors, who included former British Ambassador to the U.S. Christopher Meyer, and former Secret Intelligence Service chief Richard Dearlove, were unsparing on London's management of Continental affairs:

"Europe is our region. It has economic, geopolitical and social consequences that we cannot avoid. Yet the question of how the UK relates to what kind of Europe is likely to dominate our consciousness, and to do so well past the scheduled referendum. It should not. Constantly fretting about the formal status of our association with the EU restricts what the UK can in practice achieve through that relationship. In, out, or semi- detached, the fact is that working in and with Europe is a necessary component of nearly every area of policy."

The authors find a Britain that has never quite exited the thrall of its own past glories. Faced with its limitations in a rapidly changing world, "any conversation about Britain's role seems to hang on a narrative of decline, the evident loss of empire juxtaposed with a craving for enduring influence."

"For Churchill in 1948, that meant a unique place for Britain at the centre of three great circles of the Commonwealth, the English-speaking world, and a united Europe."

Instead of an approach that starts with pure national interests, the authors declare, a confident new strategy for London starts by identifying its location now within international and transnational networks.

"Such a role demands a focus on shared interests and challenges over and above parochial concerns. The UK is likely to have its own partial interests at stake on any given issue, but should recognise that its broader interests are served by solutions that work for the system as a whole, rather than for a limited set of powerful actors."

The unease underscored by the LSE report builds on similar research released last month by the venerable Chatham House, or Royal Institute of International Affairs, in whose conference room Cameron on Nov. 10 detailed Britain's negotiating stance as formal negotiations to prevent a British exit from the European Union get underway.

Chatham House's paper, "Britain, Europe and the World: Rethinking the UK's Circles of Influence," finds that an attempted partial pivot away from Europe and the United States and toward a greater emphasis on trade partnerships with emerging economies such as India and China is at best bound for mixed results.

"Early in this new parliament, therefore, the UK finds itself off-balance on the international stage, struggling to sustain its relevance and influence at the nexus of three principal channels of influence: Europe, the transatlantic partnership, and a set of wider international relationships. At the core of the problem is the continuing desire of British leaders to retain maximum international flexibility, with Britain trying to serve variously as a pivot, bridge or connecting node in a networked world or, as William Hague once put it, ‘a centre with many spokes coming out of it'. Each of these concepts implies that Britain can pursue a foreign policy that is ‘expeditionary and agile' and capable of facing in multiple directions simultaneously. It also suggests that Britain wants to continue to act as a free agent in international affairs, capable of giving equal priority to multiple bilateral and institutional relationships, despite growing international competition and constrained resources.

"This approach will not work."

Of course, Britain's leaders cannot determine any approach at all until Britain's voters give their answer on whether to stay in the European Union, or leave it. That referendum is set to take place by 2017; a specific date is yet to be determined. The sooner, the better.

More on this:

Investing for Influence, report of the LSE Diplomacy Commission
Rethinking the UK's Circles of Influence, Chatham House

Around the Continent

Eulogies: On a continent currently seeming to suffer a lack of bold statesmanship, former German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt, who passed away this week, is remembered as the consummate European statesman. Die Zeit editor Josef Joffe, writing for the Wall Street Journal:

"Mr. Schmidt's second ordeal came two years later. It was the last high-pitched confrontation in the Cold War. The Soviets had deployed nuclear missiles capable of striking all of Europe but not the U.S. Posing a ‘separate threat,' Mr. Schmidt argued, these rockets would ‘decouple' European from American security, allowing Moscow to dominate the Continent. To ‘recouple,' Mr. Schmidt laid out a ‘dual-track' solution: Either the Soviets cease and desist, or NATO would field U.S. cruise and Pershing II missiles to restore the balance.

"West Germany was the linchpin of the counterdeployment, and the Kremlin did its worst to terrorize the country, funding left-wing groups and threatening first strikes. Millions of Germans thronged the cities to keep the Pershings out of the country. Mr. Schmidt's own Social Democrats abandoned him. Yet he refused to be cowed. In the end he was ousted by Helmut Kohl and the Christian Democrats."

And Die Zeit's political editor, Jochen Bittner, explaining why Germans loved Schmidt:

"When Chancellor Angela Merkel took a hard line against Russia last year, he insisted on the opposite course -- not because he approved of President Vladimir V. Putin's actions, but because, unless the German government tried to understand and to engage with Russia, Europe could sleepwalk into another war.

"He was no peacenik, though. In 1979 he defended NATO's decision to deploy hundreds of nuclear missiles on German soil. Although this move incited one of the biggest mass protests Germany had ever seen, Mr. Schmidt never backed down from his belief that the missiles were necessary to prevent another world war.

"Germans loved this intellectual independence. The very moment you don't care whom you annoy with your opinion, you are free."

Schengen is at risk, EU Council President warns: Donald Tusk made the assertion during a summit in Valletta, Malta. Jacopo Barigazzi:

"‘Saving Schengen is a race against time and we are determined to win that race,' Tusk told reporters after a meeting of European and African leaders on the migration issue. ‘We must hurry but without panic.'"

As the European Union agrees at the summit to dedicate €1.8 billion in funds to address the so-called root causes of migration (whether participants will live up to the pledge is an open question), tiny Slovenia is dealing with a surge of some 170,000 migrants crossing its territory, and Sweden is setting up border controls. Meanwhile, Tusk's own home government, Poland, didn't even attend the Malta conference. Nor did the British, who opted to let the Dutch speak for London.

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